From the outset, experts unanimously hailed the 1998 Southern Rhône harvest, as vintage of the century. La Revue du Vin de France: the 1998 Southern Rhône vintage produced «wines of anthology» (Score 19/20). The wines were labeled as bursting with ripe fruit, depth and excellent aging potential. Originally these intensely fruity wines pleased fans of rich, velvety, full bodied Grenache dominated reds. At age 20, has some of the fruit faded? Are the wines holding up to the hype?
@ Les Conseillers du Vin, a group of 16 experienced tasters analyzed eight (8) 1998 Southern Rhône reds, dominated by the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation. In the usual blind tasting format, the goal of this tasting is to verify the evolution, richness and balance of this excellent Southern Rhône vintage. Should we drink up or leave these fine reds in our cellar for a few more years?
Results: To establish the order of preference of the tasting panel, 3 points were awarded for a first place vote, 2 pts for a 2nd place vote and 1pt for a 3rd place vote.
As expected this selection of reputed producers showed varying quality levels and evolution. Half (8) of the participants preferred wine # 3, the Rasteau from Gourt de Mautens; no doubt the clear cut winner with 28 points. On my score sheet the Rasteau finished fourth. True to its appellation, this well structured Rasteau displayed (still) astringent tannins and a slight bitter finish. Was over-extraction the cause for this mild austere character? Finishing second and third were CDP Boisrenard (20 pts) and Gigondas Font de Sane (19 pts) with almost identical scores, but very different styles. Both wines showed very ripe fruit and great balance. The ready to drink Gigondas showed more elegance, while the more extracted Boisrenard was fuller, and should continue to evolve favourably. For many of the tasters the very evolved CDP Vieilles Vignes from Galet des Papes was a disappointing wine. In previous tastings, Galet des Papes has often showed more evolution than most of its peers. We can conclude by saying that the best 1998 Grenache dominated Southern Rhône reds are still showing well and offer some remaining potential for continued aging; especially the cuvées with more Syrah and Mourvèdre in the blend. Fans of these southern reds should be wary that some wines have started to fade. Choose carefully! My top three wines were: 1-CDP Boisrenard, 2-Gigondas Font de Sane, 3-CDP Beaucastel
The wines : Order of blind tasting:
1-Gigondas Domaine Font de Sane (Group score: 19 pts)
The surprise wine of the tasting! In a very elegant medium bodied style. Soft acidity, ripe fruit and a charming velvety texture. Slight strawberry jam nose with floral and spicy hints. At its peak, enjoy this well crafted red over the next 2 to 3 years. My rating: 93/100
2- Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles VIgnes, Galet des Papes (Group score: 0 pts)
The disappointing wine of the tasting! Five (5) participants labeled it as a disappointment. Orange colour, slightly oxidized nose. A very evolved high acid CDP starting to show signs of old age. My rating: 85?/100
3-Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Rasteau, Domaine Gourt de Mautens (Group Score: 28 pts)
The favourite wine of the group! Deep colour with a slight orange rim. Jammy, spicy nose. Ripe flavours, full bodied, surprisingly firm tannins and good length. Seems to have more potential to age, but will the tannins soften up? My rating: 90?/100
4- Châteauneuf-du-Pape Château de Beaucastel (Group score: 12 pts)
Evolved orangy colour. The nose also shows evolution with earthy scents. Ripe elegant flavours, well balanced and soft textured. A surprisingly easy drinking CDP from this reputed producer. Ready to drink. My rating: 92/100
5- Châteauneuf-du-Pape Boisrenard, Paul Coulon (Group score: 20 pts)
My favourite wine of the tasting. Deeply coloured wine. Bursting berry fruit scents with floral and spicy hints. Rich, ripe and full, it displays great volume and length. Good structure for continued aging (3 to 4 years). My rating: 94/100
6- Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine de Montpertuis (Group score : 2 pts)
Pale colour, quite orangy. Evolved nose displaying earthy and coffee scents. Sweet ripe flavours. Reminiscent of a mature Burgundy from a warm year. A soft and evolved CDP. Don’t wait! My rating: 88/100
7- Châteauneuf-du-Pape Chante le Merle, Bosquet des Papes (Group score: 5 pts)
Medium colour with orange rim. Barely cooked/jammy nose with spicy and vegetal scents. Surprisingly firm with slightly bitter tannins. Tastes of stems! In a more austere style, ready to drink. My rating: 87?/100
8-Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Chaupin, Domaine de la Janasse (Group score: 7 pts)
This Cuvée Chaupin is made with 100% Grenache. Orangy color. Some heat on the palate. Ripe and velvety, almost sweet, with good length. Maybe the very hot 1998 vintage needed more Mourvèdre and Syrah to attain better balance? Drink up! My rating: 89/100
Photo: Rhône Valley